The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

PRESS RELEASE
7-30-09

CORPORATE EXPRESS OFFICE PRODUCTS SUED BY EEOC FOR RACE DISCRIMINATION

Louisiana Office Products Supplier Denied Black Account Manager Fair Wages Due to Race, Federal Agency Charges

NEW ORLEANS – The Gulf Coast Division of a nationwide office products supplier violated federal law by denying an African American account manager fair wages due to his race, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Corporate Express Office Products, Inc., a subsidiary of retail giant Staples, Inc., refused to pay Frank L. Hawkins III proper wages due to his race, and, as a result, he was forced to seek advancement and equal opportunities with a different employer. Hawkins began working for Corporate Express in January 2003, when he was recruited from college with a marketing degree. He was hired by the company as a junior account manager with an annual salary of $32,500, plus commissions. Hawkins was informed that this was a training position and that after six to eight months he would be promoted to account manager with an increase in his base salary. However, although Hawkins was promoted to account manager that August, his base salary was not increased.

Hawkins was the only African American account manager working in the Gulf Coast Division out of Baton Rouge, La. He had no disciplinary action, received numerous certificates and accolades for his achievements, and exceeded his performance goals. However, the EEOC said, Hawkins’s annual base salary was never increased based on his performance, despite his continued requests. Yet a white female colleague received a $2,500 salary increase in 2004, allegedly due to her performance, increasing her salary to more than $40,000. In addition, when two white employees left he company, Hawkins took over their accounts without receiving any salary increase for the increased workload -- and the change entailed increased sales. Further, the white male hired to replace Hawkins as the junior account manager received a higher base salary than Hawkins earned even after he became an account manager. By October 2006, Hawkins determined he could not advance with this company despite his efforts and achievements. Therefore, he submitted his resignation that month.

Race discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 3:09-cv-00516) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court. The EEOC is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the company from engaging in employment discrimination and retaliation, as well as back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages.

“The most frequently filed charges with the EEOC are allegations of race discrimination, racial harassment, or retaliation arising from opposition to discrimination,” said Keith Hill, director of the EEOC’s New Orleans Field Office. “The EEOC is committed to its mission of eradicating such discrimination from the workplace.”

EEOC Regional Attorney Jim Sacher added, “There is absolutely no excuse for race discrimination in the 21st century, and no employer is entitled to treat an employee differently because of his race or color.”

According to company information, in July 2008, Corporate Express was acquired by Staples, Inc., one of the world’s leading suppliers of office products to businesses and institutions. Corporate Express has 167 locations, including 39 distribution centers, and employs more than 8,500 employees nationwide, including more than 1,700 sales and more than 650 customer service personnel. Staples, Inc. serves businesses of all sizes and consumers in 27 countries throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Staples, Inc. is headquartered outside Boston, Mass.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.


This page was last modified on July 30, 2009.

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